Jürgen Klopp feared season would be declared null and void
Liverpool manager says his players do not believe the title is a foregone conclusion
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: he feared Liverpool would be denied the opportunity to win the Premier League by the season being declared null and void. Photograph: John Walton/PA Wire
Premier League: Everton v Liverpool
Kick-off: 7pm, Sunday. Venue: Goodison Park. On TV: Live on Sky Sports.
Jürgen Klopp has said he feared Liverpool would be denied the opportunity to win the Premier League by the season being declared null and void because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Liverpool were 25 points clear of Manchester City when football was suspended on March 13th, and only six points short of winning the club’s first league championship since 1990. The pursuit of the title restarts against Everton on Sunday, and Klopp admitted there were times during the lockdown when he genuinely, and physically, felt Liverpool’s outstanding efforts would be in vain.
The Liverpool manager, asked whether he feared the season would be declared null and void, replied: “Honestly, yes. I didn’t think when we went to lockdown: ‘Oh my God, that is our season, we are so close,’ because it was not important in that moment. I became worried in the moment when people started talking about null and void this season because I was like ‘wow’. And I really felt it physically.
“That would have been really, really hard. We don’t expect to get it as a present, we didn’t want to have a points-per-game basis, so we were really happy when it was decided we could play again.
“There were moments when some people brought it [null and void] up from time to time for different reasons, but when it was off the table I felt quite relieved. If they had done points per game and we couldn’t have played then we would have been champions but now we aren’t and we have to play for it and that is great, that is how it should be in sports. And now we go for it.”
Klopp, who has a fully fit squad available for the derby at Goodison Park, insisted his players do not believe the destiny of the title is a foregone conclusion.
“We don’t think in our mind we are already there. We know the situation in the table, we saw City playing, we see all the other teams. We needed a lot of work to come around to where we are this season, but we needed luck as well and that’s what we need again.
“The next few weeks will be tougher than tough. I hope I can enjoy it as hard work is never a problem for us, but we need to make sure we can play the best football we can play. But we will be fine, and we will see what we have to celebrate and how we celebrate, but these things are only important in the moment when it has finally happened, and not before.”
Carlo Ancelotti is grateful that Sunday’s Merseyside derby will be played at Goodison Park even if the lack of fans might rob Everton of any home advantage. Confirmation that Goodison will host the match only came last week after fears that fans could breach social distancing regulations to congregate around the stadium — particularly if it had remained possible that Liverpool could clinch the league title for the first time in 30 years with a win.
“I am pleased it is at Goodison but not pleased we will play without supporters,” Ancelotti said. “No one is pleased to play without supporters, and I hope soon it will be safe to have people in the stands during games. Everyone in football says our supporters are the 12th man, but we have to respect the procedure.”
The Italian admitted he could not predict how his players would react to the empty stands, but said that just because the fans were not there, his players would not feel the expectation to perform in a derby any less.
“We know it is not a normal game. Everyone in the world knows how the fans look for this game. We know really well what we have to do. We have to play a perfect game showing character, sacrifice and personality.”
Liverpool’s hopes of potentially clinching the title on Everton turf were dashed by Manchester City’s midweek win over Arsenal, but Ancelotti said that changed nothing as far as he was concerned.
“Our goals are not about the goals of Liverpool. We have to do our best to reach a good position in the table and if possible to play in Europe next season, so we are not focused on what Liverpool are doing. If they cannot win the title at our home, this doesn’t matter for us. What matters is points to improve our position.”
The lockdown has not been kind to Everton on the injury front, with Jean-Philippe Gbamin suffering an Achilles injury which will rule him out for another four to five months, while Theo Walcott has had surgery on an abdominal problem. Yerry Mina and Fabian Delph have also suffered problems in training which will rule them out on Sunday.
But Ancelotti said the rest of his squad had prepared well, and would be ready for the intensity of a derby.
“The other players are fit, in a good condition and motivated. When you come back from a long period five weeks is not a lot of time, but I think the physical condition is good enough to play a good game.”
The long period without games has given Ancelotti more time to assess things at Everton after taking over in late December and going straight into the busy festive period, but he said he had not used the time to make any tactical changes.
“In this period we were in contact with the players showing them some video and giving them physical training to do at home but nothing special. We are not going to change our strategy or our style. Until the end of the season we will follow the style from the games before the lockdown.”